6/20/2013 1:15 A.M. ET
A's starters hitting their stride
By Christian Corona / Special to MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- It's no coincidence that the A's season turned around at the same time the team's starting pitching did.
A's starters have gone 17-5 with a 2.84 ERA in their last 31 games after going 14-21 with a 5.09 ERA in their first 42 contests. The A's are 23-8 during that 31-game stretch, going from 7 1/2 games behind the Rangers in the American League West to three games ahead of them entering play on Wednesday.
"You look at all the different facets, and it's the biggest difference in this latest little streak we've had," manager Bob Melvin said of the starting pitching. "The offense was good early on, and we were overcoming some shortcomings among the starters, but this is a nice run they've had. Any time your starter goes out there and keeps the opponent down, it gives you a lot of confidence."
Whereas the Rangers, 12-18 since May 17, have yet to get a win from a starting pitcher this month, A's starters have thrived. Jarrod Parker has been one of the most effective during this stretch, going 4-1 with a 2.34 ERA in his six starts since May 17 -- all of them quality starts.
"We're the tone-setters out there as starters. This team is built around having a good starting staff," Parker said. "We've been happy. But at the same time, we all know what we're capable of. We obviously know we can be even better."
'Team first' focus behind Balfour's success
ARLINGTON -- Grant Balfour has discovered that the less he focuses on himself and the more he focuses on the team, the better his individual performance becomes.
Balfour has converted all 17 of his save chances this season, the most without a blown save in the American League. He has individual goals -- ones that he won't share but says don't involve numbers -- but finds that he's at his best when the only stat he's concerned with is the one in the win column.
"Years ago I got caught up in what I was doing," Balfour said. "I think when you go out and you pitch to win, to win for the team every day, your individual numbers seem to be a lot better. I just see it a little differently in the last five or six years. You play as a team. You win as a team."
It's been nearly 14 months since Balfour has blown a save, as he's converted 35 in a row since last May and posted a 1.21 ERA in 30 appearances this year. He has yet to allow multiple runs in an outing this season and has tossed 8 1/3 scoreless innings entering Wednesday's game against the Rangers.
"Pete Rose had the best [quote], when his son came up to him and said, 'I'm in a slump. What do I do?' and he said, 'I don't know. I was never in a slump,'" Balfour said. "I can honestly say I've been through some tough times and dealt with a lot of things. If things are going good, you just try to ride them as long as you can."
Young leads off again while Crisp, Jaso rest
ARLINGTON -- Chris Young batted leadoff for the second time this season, starting in center field while Coco Crisp got a day off. John Jaso was also left out of the lineup.
Young's previous start as the leadoff hitter came last Friday, against the Mariners, when he went 3-for-3 and ended a triple shy of the cycle. He hit leadoff 244 times in seven seasons with the D-backs before coming to Oakland.
"He has extensive experience and success [batting leadoff]," manager Bob Melvin said. "It's actually kind of natural. I'll do that with Jaso sometimes, but without him in the lineup today, it's natural."
Young contributed a three-run homer in Wednesday's 9-4 loss.
Jaso homered for the second time this year and was hit by a pitch in Tuesday's 6-2 win over the Rangers before not starting on Wednesday. He was also involved in a collision at the plate when Ian Kinsler scored in the third inning on Tuesday.
[Jaso]'s a little beat up," Melvin said. "He got a ball off the foot, got a bat off the foot. He's a little brusied up. It's probably the right time for a day off."
The day off didn't last, though, as Jaso replaced an injured Derek Norris in the sixth inning, and went 0-for-2.
Cespedes still not 100 percent, starts at DH again
ARLINGTON -- Yoenis Cespedes, who is nursing a tight left hamstring, has still not been cleared to play the field and started at designated hitter for the sixth straight game on Wednesday.
Cespedes missed two games with the hamstring issue before returning to the lineup as the DH and has had just three hits in 20 at-bats in the five games since. He is hitting .232 with two home runs and 13 RBIs this year.
"He always wants to play in the field," manager Bob Melvin said. "When you're in the field, you're always doing something. There's a feel to the game. When you're DH-ing it just feels like you're pinch-hitting four times."
Despite Cespedes' struggles, the A's are 36-20 when he is in the lineup and 7-10 when he isn't. It's still unclear when he will be able to return to the outfield.
"When he's in the lineup, we're a better team, whether he's swinging well or not," Melvin said. "[His hamstring] isn't 100 percent, and that's the reason he's not in the field, but it's not to the point where he has to limp around the bases."
• With their 6-2 win over the Rangers on Tuesday, the A's improved to 30-15 in night games this year, the best mark in the Majors.
• Entering Wednesday, Yoenis Cespedes was hitting .188 in night games compared with .313 in day games this season.
• Before starting on Wednesday, Tommy Milone was winless in four night starts this year, going 0-3 with a 4.91 ERA.
• The A's have scored 23 runs in their last three games, two of them wins, matching their run total from the previous eight games.
Christian Corona is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.